How do I set and check in on objectives?

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How will you ever know if you and your agency are doing good work? It starts with anchoring your partnership with well-defined expectations in the form of goals and objectives. As a reminder, “goals” are a statement of desired intent, like “Our goal is to increase the number of dollars we raise this year.” An objective is SMART (specific, measurable, results oriented, and time bound, like “Acquire 500 monthly donors with an average gift of $75.” Remember, the more specific your objectives are at the beginning of the project, the more you’ll inevitably sharpen your evaluative lens, enabling you to gauge the trajectory of your progress more effectively.

Maintaining open channels of communication with your agency is essential to ensure that the partnerships and projects are progressing smoothly and to maintain a healthy working relationship. Here are some robust ways to facilitate constructive dialogues on progress and assess the agency-client relationship:

1. Scheduled Meetings: Set up regular meetings or calls with the agency to discuss project updates, progress, and any challenges or concerns. These meetings can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly, depending on the project’s timeline and complexity. Use these touchpoints as an opportunity to review the work done, provide feedback, and address any questions or issues.

Seek to have as few meetings as possible. While regular interactions are vital, minimizing the frequency of these touchpoints conserves resources, optimizes time and preserves sanity all around. The cadence of these meetings can be adjusted throughout the project. At the outset of a partnership you may be inclined to schedule more meetings than fewer. But, as you and the agency get going, once per quarter you should evaluate if you need them all as some of these meetings will be redundant and take time away from the effort of the work. Chances are you will remove a few from the schedule. And, as you go, you will need to add new ones to support new projects.

In numerous agency collaborations, I’ve experienced too many meetings proving to be detrimental to the progress of the project. The agency is cruising smoothly with all parties in sync, until a face-to-face interaction disrupts the harmony. Sometimes, the essence of a casual remark or a tangential discussion during a meeting can inadvertently trigger significant shifts in the agency’s approach.  Such unexpected pivots, based on ephemeral conversations, can lead to derailment from the original project trajectory, thereby extending timelines and necessitating eventual realignments.

While open dialogue and spontaneous brainstorming can be invaluable, there’s also merit in limiting the dialogue to ensuring a focused approach.
Directional changes should be rooted in comprehensive discussions, grounded feedback, and mutual consensus, rather than fleeting conversational detours. This balance ensures that the partnership remains both adaptive and steadfast in its core objectives.

2. Project Status Reports: Request periodic project status reports from the agency. These reports should outline the progress made, milestones achieved, and any upcoming deliverables or deadlines. Review these reports to assess the project’s trajectory, identify any potential bottlenecks, and address any concerns in a timely manner.

Let me save you some work and headache related to status reports. Keep these project status reports as brief as possible. Avoid scheduling meetings to just read through these reports with a big group of people. Truly, their purpose is to identify things that are exceptional (good or bad) and to drive downstream activities. So, if you see something in a report that concerns you, schedule a meeting to talk about it with the people who are affected and can fix it. Make this a practice, and your team AND your agency will thank you (and hopefully me) later.  

3. Streamlining Communication with Project Status Reports: Instead of weekly meetings that can distract from the work, establish open lines of communication beyond those meetings in the form of Project Status updates. These concise reports can be delivered through email, project management tools, or collaboration platforms – whatever works best for your team. They should include focused reports with recognition of the timeline and explanations of work done during working hours.

As you create lines for asynchronous conversation, like Slack, Trello, Meet, (but definitely not Teams) make sure you establish an expectation for people to respond to messages. So many people these days tell me they are overwhelmed by the pressure to respond to “all the notifications.” It will be harder than you think to come up with a policy or practice that works for everyone. So, solicit input and make a decision (you know how). Then communicate the expectations clearly to your team and the agency’s. 

Both your internal team and the agency will surely appreciate (and perhaps toast to) this clarity and effectiveness in communication!

4. Project Feedback Sessions: Schedule periodic, dedicated feedback sessions to discuss the agency’s work and provide constructive feedback. These are intended to be less frequent than normal touchpoints and should have be focused on specific deliverables, such as design concepts or marketing campaigns.

Clearly communicate your expectations of what the agency should provide during these check ins. Treat it like an RFP – they should be pitching you back the work they have successfully completed and ensure you’re confident in the money you’re spending ith them. You’ll provide detailed feedback to guide the agency’s efforts moving forward and should see those efforts clearly reflected in the following feedback session. Allow for a two-way dialogue where the agency can also share their perspectives and seek clarification on anything that may be delaying the project.

Remember – truly effective feedback isn’t a monologue, but a dynamic interaction. Allowing the agency to voice their insights and try to internalize that feedback. If you’re not able to successfully communicate with your agency, your project is doomed.

5. Relationship Review Meetings: Establish a rhythm of meetings specifically aimed at discussing the agency-client relationship and overall satisfaction. Think of these as periodic health checks or “business pulse reviews,” ideally spaced quarterly, to dissect the broader contours of the partnership.

Discuss communication, collaboration, and any potential challenges that may affect the relationship. This should not be focused on the actual project, but rather the flow of communication about the project. It can also include feelings about the platform you’re using to connect or the pressures either side is feeling. Over time, this strong relationship will improve results and (more importantly) make it easier to solve problems when they appear.

6. Performance Metrics and Reporting: Set up performance metrics and reporting mechanisms to gauge the effectiveness of the agency’s work. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your project goals and track the agency’s performance against those metrics. These reports should be structured to both teams liking and shared regularly. The last thing you want is a laborious report that provides little–to-no information and tires the agency out. You don’t want valuable hours of the agency’s time spent filling out a report instead of doing the work

That being said, these reports can be extremely helpful, especially in lieu of weekly/regular check-ins. Have the report delivered regularly and have sessions where you review the reports together and discuss the results, allowing both parties to have a data-driven conversation about progress and improvements. In my experience, outside of heavy campaigns, you should do this monthly, at least.

Concluding Reflections: Building a Synergistic Partnership

Measuring the success of an agency partnership hinges on setting clear goals and SMART objectives. Yet, the foundation of a flourishing collaboration is consistent, transparent communication. This means purposeful meetings, succinct status reports, and regular feedback sessions.

Being aware is key. A misstep or miscommunication can shift a project’s direction. Thus, structured feedback sessions and relationship check-ins become essential, allowing for candid discussions and alignment.

Introducing data through performance metrics ensures that discussions are grounded in tangible results, promoting accountability and growth. In essence, a successful agency-client relationship isn’t merely about meeting objectives—it’s about mutual trust, shared vision, and journeying together towards excellence.

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